Archive for May 2nd, 2009

Image Credit: Economist

Image Credit: Economist

On Wednesday, UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown pledged £665 million in aid over the next four years to Pakistan. Although much of the financial assistance will be geared towards Pakistan’s counter-terrorism (and hopefully, counterinsurgency) operations, £125 million will be earmarked for supporting education projects in the border area “in an effort to stop the spread of extremism,” reported Dawn. The announcement came just a day before Britain ended its combat operations in Iraq, a sign the UK, like the United States, is also shifting more attention to the volatile Af-Pak border areas.

The pledge and Brown’s corresponding statements also highlighted an attempt to address the alleged “chain of terror” between the Pakistan and the United Kingdom. On April 8, British police arrested 12 men on suspicion of involvement in a terrorist plot. Ten were Pakistani citizens on student visas. Although it is still not clear whether it was actually a terrorist plot, and charges against the students were dropped, the incident sparked a “diplomatic row” between London and Islamabad.

In an interview with the Guardian, Asif Durrani, Pakistan’s deputy high commissioner to London, said Britain appeared vindictive against Pakistani nationals, adding that claims Islamabad was soft on terror were slurs. He told the news agency, “Pointing a finger towards Pakistan was shocking for us … it was uncalled for and shocking..Pakistan’s name is dragged into the mud on every opportunity … either we are allies, or we are not.”

The Guardian noted in its coverage, “Tension between Islamabad and London over terrorism has been rising for months. In December, Brown claimed 75% of the plots Britain faced were linked to Pakistan…” In this most recent development, UK officials physically searched the students’ houses and seized computers but found no evidence of any connection to this alleged terrorist plot. Nevertheless, they have been remanded into the custody of the UK Border agency, pending their deportation. An editorial in Dawn earlier this week noted,

Can Mr. Brown, who was in Pakistan the other day, answer this one simple question: what is their crime? Every single student rounded up by the police was in the UK on a valid visa. Not one shred of evidence that could stand up in court could be produced against any of the young men now in custody. Is this justice? No, it is not.

Gordon Brown may not realize that false accusations, arrests, and seizures of Pakistanis do little to keep the UK safe from terror. Instead, such actions exacerbate tensions further, not only between Islamabad and London, but also among the UK’s Pakistani community. Moreover, while the PM may contend that three-quarters of the terror plots in Britain are linked to Pakistan, blame cannot be shifted one-way. An article in last week’s Economist entitled, “The Immigration Superhighway,” reported that each year 250,000 Pakistanis come to Britain to visit, work or marry, and some 350,000 British-Pakistanis journey to Pakistan, mostly to visit family. And while the oft-porous border between the two nations has raised concerns, not everyone agrees that Islamist extremism is the fault of Pakistan alone.

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